Wolf's clothing: Corbett could have done better for public health

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Of all the people Gov. Tom Corbett could've nominated to head Pennsylvania's Department of Health, he chose acting secretary Michael Wolf, who lacks a medical or public health background.

As the former lobbyist for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Mr. Wolf's job was to influence and educate legislators across the nation about the industry's perspective on a wide range of issues.

By some accounts, he's been a competent administrator as acting head since October of an agency whose mission is to "promote healthy lifestyles, prevent injury and disease and to assure the safe delivery of quality health care for all Commonwealth citizens." With an annual budget of $838 million and 1,700 employees, the department also oversees the regulation of hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities.

Still, couldn't the Corbett administration have found a good administrator with public health experience? Mr. Wolf has a degree in political science and international business, was the political director of the state Republican Party and worked for Tom Ridge's gubernatorial campaign. He later served Gov. Ridge in the Office of International Business Development.

One department challenge is that Pennsylvania ranks 43rd in public health spending, according to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. If Mr. Wolf is confirmed by the Senate, will he be a health secretary who advocates for the necessary resources or will he treat the public health domain simply like a business?

Mr. Corbett has high praise for his nominee, but Pennsylvanians have a right to wonder if the governor could have done better.

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